Vladimir Putin’s art of the deal

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There is a common political thriller trope in the long-running Fox drama “24”: Most of the time, the president of the United States turns out to be the bad guy. Fortunately for the real United States, a turncoat president has largely remained the stuff of Tom Clancy novels and War on Terror-era political dramas.

Then there’s Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States of America and sometimes-buddy of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. At a time when the United States is leading the West in an effort to unify against Russia’s illegal aggression in Ukraine and prevent a broader war from consuming Europe, Trump is openly asking Putin to kneecap the United States.

In an interview with the conservative news outlet Real America’s Voice, Trump urged Putin to release political dirt he believes implicates President Biden’s son, Hunter, in corrupt dealings with Russian political officials. “As long as Putin is not a fan of our country,” Trump added, “I think he should release it. You won’t get the answer from Ukraine. I think Putin now would be willing to probably give that answer.” 

Trump was referencing his failed effort to extort Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into wading into the 2020 election, an act of such obvious state corruption that it earned Trump his second impeachment trial. Still frustrated by Zelensky’s unwillingness to play ball and meddle in American politics, Trump is now publicly and unashamedly courting America’s enemies in the hopes they will help him further undermine Americans’ trust in government.

With Russian tanks now rolling through Ukraine, Trump’s desire for vengeance – against Zelensky, against Biden, against a United States that tossed him out of office in 2020 – has an eager audience in the Kremlin. And with the Biden administration working at a stunning pace to solidify its sweeping pro-Ukraine coalition, Putin is eager to destabilize America’s already fractious political landscape. For his part, Trump is happy to help amplify Russia’s authoritarian agenda — as long as it hurts Democrats. 

This isn’t even the first time Trump has called on Putin to interfere in American life. In July 2016, Trump famously asked Putin to hack Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s email server. It was a request Russia’s intelligence agency was thrilled to act on, compromising American national security and laying the groundwork for years of mounting mistrust between Democrats and Republicans. 

For their part, Russia’s media and intelligence apparatus understand Trump’s insecurity and need for attention, and feed the former president a steady diet of glowing praise. Russian broadcaster Evgeny Popov recently amplified a debunked conspiracy that Hunter Biden funded a bioweapons program in Ukraine. At the end of his broadcast, Popov remarked that Russians should call for “regime change” in America, adding that Russians should “help our partner Trump to become president” as soon as possible.

This feedback cycle allows the Russian government to shower Trump in golden media coverage in exchange for Trump’s willingness to keep spouting off about Kremlin-backed Biden conspiracy theories. This is Putin’s art of the deal: offering something meaningless – televised Trump worship – in exchange for the loud and public complicity of a former American president in advancing anti-American propaganda. 

Recent American history has not been a highlight reel. The nation has whipsawed from the nihilistic and criminal excesses of the Trump administration to the rise of QAnon conspiracy theories, COVID-19 denialism and the “big lie” that the 2020 election was a fraud — crackpot nonsense amplified by Trump and a mostly obedient Republican Party. But even with those bleak lows, it is still deeply alarming to see a former American president offering advice to the Russians on how to further divide our country. 

Trump’s continued parroting of debunked conspiracy theories such as Hunter Biden’s alleged “Ukrainian connection” does more than just undermine our domestic politics — it provides the Russian government with an influential ally at the top of one of America’s two major parties. That’s a goldmine of influence that someone like Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev could have only dreamed about. 

Republicans, even those who view Trump in a semi-divine light, must ask themselves whether allegiance to party leadership is worth entering into a devil’s bargain with Russia and Putin. They should weigh carefully whether a former American president who shows no loyalty to the domestic peace of his own country should be trusted to potentially lead that nation a second time. For the sake of America’s long-term health, that answer must be no.

Max Burns is a Democratic strategist and founder of Third Degree Strategies, a progressive communications firm. Follow him on Twitter @themaxburns.

Tags 2016 Russian election meddling Conspiracy theories related to the Trump–Ukraine scandal Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Biden QAnon Russia Russia-Ukraine war Russian disinformation trumpism Vladimir Putin

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